Profs tackle future of Supreme Court

Six Yale Law School professors discussed the confirmation hearings of John G. Roberts, Jr., President George W. Bush’s nominee for chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at a panel Wednesday.

The panelists spoke about the confirmation process, the role of the chief justice and the direction Roberts should take the court. Roberts, a U.S. Appeals Court judge, was nominated to replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The event, which drew more than 100 students and was co-sponsored by the Yale chapter of the American Constitutional Society and the Federalist Society of Yale, was headlined by professors Bruce Ackerman, Stephen Carter, Paul Gewirtz, Jonathan Macey, Judith Resnik and Kenji Yoshino, who moderated the panel.

Resnik, who is expected to testify as a witness in the confirmation hearing today, said she is taking Roberts’ nomination seriously because he is likely to hold the post for many years, noting that the average life span of a chief justice is about 24 years. She discussed some changes that have been proposed for the Supreme Court’s structure to limit the number of years a judge can serve as chief justice.

“There are many innovations that have been proposed,” Resnik said. “There is a proposition that life tenure means that you have the position of judge for life, but not the position of chief justice for life.”

Gewirtz spoke about the Senate’s role in the confirmation process. He has personal experience with Senate confirmation hearings. His wife, Zoe Baird, was President Bill Clinton’s nominee for attorney general in 1993 before bowing out of her confirmation due to controversy involving her employment of two illegal Peruvian immigrants.

Discussing the origin of the confirmation process, Carter said it is tied to the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954.

“Before 1955, there was no real formal confirmation process,” Carter said. “The Dixiecrats were in charge of the Senate, and they decided for all the nominees to appear to answer subsequent questions of their philosophy generally and integration particularly.”

The liberal ACS sponsored the event in an effort to highlight Roberts’ record.

“Our students are the ones who are going to come of age under a Roberts court and should have a full and informed discussion about whether we want a radically conservative vision of the law to govern our lives,” said Ian Bassin LAW ’06, the ACS chapter president.

Joshua Hawley LAW ’06, president of the local chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, said the panel was a great way for law students to think about the larger implications of the law.

“If history is any guide, something like two-thirds of the students sitting in this class will be significant policy makers in the United States’ government, so thinking about these issues … is very important,” Hawley said.

Some students pointed to Erin Morrow LAW ’05 as an example of a Yalie working hands-on in the government. Morrow clerked for Roberts in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, assisting Roberts and managing the flow of cases through the court.

Judy Coleman LAW ’06 said the panelists made new connections between pressing legal issues.

“Macey made an interesting point — one I hadn’t heard before — about how Roberts will have to reconcile his narrow view of the Commerce Clause with his expansive view of deference to agencies,” Coleman said. “I hadn’t read anything connecting those two aspects of his jurisprudence before.”

Students, liberals and conservatives alike, said they felt privileged to be present in front of the six legal minds because they did not shy away from presenting their differing views.

“I thought it was interesting to see at least some — albeit limited — diversity among the faculty in terms of their political views,” Jed Brinton LAW ’08 said.

Stephen Vaden LAW ’08 expressed similar sentiments.

“Considering Yale Law School’s well-deserved left-wing reputation, I thought the observations of most panel members were surprisingly reasonable and even-tempered,” Vader said.

Members of a panel of six Yale law professors discuss John Roberts and the future of the Supreme Court. Because Roberts is relatively young, his tenure could shape the course of the Court for many years.
Ed Stein
Members of a panel of six Yale law professors discuss John Roberts and the future of the Supreme Court. Because Roberts is relatively young, his tenure could shape the course of the Court for many years.

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